Sunday, December 31, 2006

Success Is All in a Day’s Work

A friend at the Yale Law has forwarded me this article by Ben Stein ( which I thought was appropriate to share with you all!

Success Is All in a Day’s Work

Merry Christmas, everybody, and happy New Year.

First off, I don't have any new advice on stocks right now. I still like the S&P 500 Index Fund, the widest possible total stock market index funds (such at the Fidelity Total Stock Market Index Fund), the European, Far Eastern, and Australasian Index Fund (EFA), the Emerging Markets Index Fund (EEM), and the Russell 2000 Value (IWN).

I wouldn't have a ton of the EEM right now because it's gone up so high and because so much of it is Russian, and I don't trust them as far as I can throw them. But a bit is all right. I also like the Cohen & Steers Quality Real Estate Income Fund (RQI), although it's also very high. For the very long run, though, it'll be fine (I hope).

A Wasted Weekend

Anyway, I don't want to talk about stocks right now. For most of us, our primary source of income is our own livelihood. I think I have something more useful to say about that.

Today, a Sunday, I had a long phone conversation with a young man who lives in Washington, D.C., my ancestral home. He's 30 years old and a highly talented writer. He aspires to be famous, although right now he's a humble writer for as newsletter about environmental protection legal issues. He calls me many times each day and tells me how eager he is to be famous and much better-paid.

When this man, whom I'll call Chuck, called me on my car phone, I asked him what he'd done with his weekend. "I played tennis," he said. "Then I swam, then I hung out at a bar in Georgetown. That was on Saturday. Today, I played tennis and swam, then watched the football game, and now I'm about to go to a movie."

He asked me what I did with my weekend. "Well, you're 30 and I'm 62," I replied. "So on Saturday I researched some issues about hedge funds. Then I studied the performance of some of my investments. Then, today, I worked very hard on a research paper on basic economic issues of hedge funds, and then I did some investigation into the performance of defunct auto parts companies."

"Wow, he said. "I wish I could have done that."

The Truth Hurts

By then I was out of patience. "Look," I said, "you want to be a writer. No one knows who you are now outside a tiny circle. But you're a good writer. Why don't you write a short freelance article every day? Just on whatever comes into your mind. Then try to get them published. Throw them against the wall. If one in three gets published, in a year you'll be really well-known and in five years you'll be a household name."

"But I don't have that many ideas," he said.

"Well, beginning writers are required to have an unlimited stock of ideas. So either get the ideas or get out of the business."

"I don't want to just write garbage," he said.

"Then don't write garbage."

"I don't want to just have frivolous articles," Chuck added.

I paused a while and broke the news to him. "You're not really cut out for fame and success You're making excuses instead of working. You're hanging out at bars instead of writing."

I continued, "The people who make it in this field work all of the time. They work weekends. They work nights. They work holidays. They're hungry and they work like demons."

"You don't like me," Chuck said. "I don't feel well. I have to go now."

Effort Equals Success

He hung up, but as I drove along, I had a sudden realization. I know a lot of really successful people -- in finance, in government, in politics, in Hollywood, in journalism, in literature.

Their common denominator is a modicum of talent and a capacity and an eagerness -- not just a willingness, but an eagerness -- to work like Trojans to get ahead. I don't know of one really successful, famous man or woman who didn't work insanely hard to get there and to stay there. (I don't count heirs and heiresses as successful.)

Please don't get me wrong. Fame and money don't guarantee happiness. It's perfectly possible to be famous and unhappy, just as it's perfectly possible to be happy and obscure. Most of all, I assure you that while money is fabulous stuff, it by no means assures happiness or peace of mind.

But for those who want to be rich and famous (or rich or famous), there's no way to do it without daily, unremitting work. It's best if the seeker loves his work so much that he or she doesn't even consider it a burden, but rather a joyful, fulfilling, highly organizing principle of life.

As for little old me, who makes no claims to anything like being a great example, I would go crazy in about a week without having work to do. I would have little sense of worth or even of who I was without work.

Get to Work (Tomorrow)

If you feel differently and get your sense of joy or purpose from going to movies or playing pool and hoisting a few beers with your pals, more power to you. But don't expect to be famous or rich.

There's nothing wrong with seeing your life as something divorced from your work. There's not a thing amiss in not caring if you ever get to be in the headlines or on TV. But if that's what you desire, you have to get to work.

Don't make excuses. Don't shirk. Just get to work and stay there until it's not work any more, but your life. That's success in and of itself.

Today, however, I give you my happy permission to avoid your work. In fact, your work today is to love the people close to you, and then to go to bed with a smile on your face.

Then, tomorrow, get up and go to work. Fate will accept no substitutes.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Something not to laugh about

If they know of him at all, many folks think Ben Stein is just a quirky actor/comedian who talks in a monotone. He's also a very intelligent attorney who knows how to put ideas and words together in such a way as to sway juries and make people think clearly.

The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary

Herewith at this happy time of year, a few confessions from my beating heart: I have no freaking clue who Nick and Jessica are. I see them on the cover of People and Us constantly when I am buying my dog biscuits and kitty litter. I often ask the checkers at the grocery stores. They never know who Nick and Jessica are either. Who are they? Will it change my life if I know who they are and why they have broken up? Why are they so important?

I don't know who Lindsay Lohan is either, and I do not care at all about Tom Cruise's wife.

Am I going to be called before a Senate committee and asked if I am a subversive? Maybe, but I just have no clue who Nick and Jessica are.

If this is what it means to be no longer young. It's not so bad.

Next confession:

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened.. I don' t feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an
explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution, and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship Nick and Jessica and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him?

I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too.

But there are a lot of us who are wondering where Nick and Jessica came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her "How could God let something like this Happen?" (regarding Katrina)

Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, "I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives.

And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?"

In light of recent events...terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found recently) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK.

Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about and we said OK.

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with "WE REAP WHAT WE SOW."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

WSJ: "Wiki" Book from Wharton, MIT and McKinsey

Pearson is joining with two top business schools - MIT Sloan and Wharton School - in a project called "We are Smarter Than Me" to create a business book authored and edited by a "wiki." There was an extensive article covering this in today's issue of Wall Street Journal:

U.K.'s Pearson Tests
The Group Dynamic
For a 'Wiki' Book
Wall Street Journal
November 16, 2006; Page B1

In a move that could shake up the book industry, publishing giant Pearson PLC is joining with two top business schools to create a business book authored and edited by a "wiki" -- an online community dedicated to writing.

The effort is inspired, in part, by the best-known wiki-produced work -- Wikipedia, a not-for-profit online encyclopedia. Despite occasional hiccups, Wikipedia is increasingly regarded as a reliable source for information, aided by community-enforced rules that it can't contain either personal points of view or original research.

In general, a wiki is an online site that lets users add and edit content. The name is based on a Hawaiian term meaning "rapidly" -- as in "wiki wiki."

The wiki book, produced by a community of business experts and managers, will be called "We Are Smarter Than Me." It will explore how businesses can use online communities, consumer-generated media such as blogs, and other Web content to help in their marketing, pricing, research and service.

Barry Libert, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant who is CEO of Shared Insights Inc., a Woburn, Mass., company, persuaded London-based Pearson, the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School to help develop the new book, which will be published under Pearson's Wharton School Publishing imprint.

The Web site, co-founded by Mr. Libert and Wharton vice dean Jon Spector, went online a month ago with initial content they shaped along with MIT management professor Thomas Malone, among others. They chose chapter headings and then wrote a few pages to create a starting point. For instance, a chapter titled "We Can Research It," tells an anecdote about an Australian man who started a mail-order brewery based on votes by 20,000 cellphone users on what makes an ideal beer. Other participants can then edit the contents or add anecdotes.

The wiki leaders expect business consultants and executives to contribute to the book site, which, like Wikipedia, doesn't pay writers for their work. The site is open to anyone, but does ask contributors to supply information. WeAreSmarter expects to close submissions to the book wiki by the end of the first quarter next year and turn it over to paid ghostwriters to turn it into a 120-page business book aimed at the fast-growing airport bookstore market. It will go on sale next fall. Despite the free labor of the original authors, the list price will be $25.99, says Tim Moore, publisher of two of Pearson's business imprints, Wharton School Publishing and FT Press. Authors will vote on a charity to receive any profits.

"Wikis are one of those things that you have to embrace early, so you can figure out what the brave new world looks like," Mr. Moore says. Part of his goal is to avoid being ambushed by the Internet like "the music industry, which really got whacked." He wouldn't say how much Pearson was spending on the project, but called the sum comparable to other business books.

Wiki authoring of a printed book could be a "wonderful" online marketing tool, Mr. Moore says. After the book is published, WeAreSmarter will remain online, where people can continue to contribute. He notes that 10,000 people, mostly alumni and faculty at the two schools, have already heard about the book through invitations to join the project and 1,000 have accepted; the plan has already been cited in "like, 47 blogs," he adds.

Other publishers are looking on with interest. Joe Wikert, executive publisher with John Wiley & Sons Inc., a Hoboken, N.J., textbook publisher, predicts that the book's quality will be high. "The community won't allow it to be garbage," he says. But with so many experts involved "it will be interesting to see how they manage the egos," he says.

"I doubt authors will see this as much of a threat to their domain," says Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, a New York-based writers' organization. "Readers generally look for a strong, consistent author's voice, which isn't something a wiki can really provide." However, having a wiki produce a book about wikis might be one of the few times that it would work, he adds.

The Wikipedia Foundation, which produces Wikipedia, has an online textbook project with the longer term goal of providing an alternative to pricey high school and college texts that often cost over $100 each. But these "Wikitexts" -- now online only -- haven't been embraced by school boards and professors who assign reading material.

Many experts are impressed with the ability of large groups of people to solve problems or predict outcomes. The 2004 best-seller "The Wisdom of Crowds," by James Surowiecki, covered the phenomenon. Many companies have started using wikis internally and with partners for product development. "Prediction markets," in which participants invest imaginary money, have often proved accurate in forecasting elections.

One goal of the WeAreSmarter project is to see how a wiki can organize and balance material provided by experts such as consultants and professors and managers who are using the techniques in their own businesses.

Mr. Libert thinks that the big community collectively will select solutions that are better than the answers provided by individual professors or consultants.

One of the big challenges will be finding ways to motivate the professional experts, many of whom make money by writing books themselves, says Mr. Malone of MIT. "The question is, can we create an incentive structure so they'll put in some of their best thinking, or will this just be incidental thinking?" He says it's possible that individuals may get credits for having primary responsibility for a particular chapter. On the other hand, he says, "If you really are an expert in this area, you wouldn't want to be left out." Authors' names will be printed on the book cover and on the Web site.

The wiki is handling the copyright question by getting participants to agree to a Creative Commons license that turns their contributions over to WeAreSmarter. Creative Commons, organized by Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig, provides a variety of different licenses by which people can allow or restrict their words or music to be used by others.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Marketing and target ads in Church sermons

Knowledge@Wharton had an interesting article Product Placement in the Pews? Microtargeting Meets Megachurches in today's issue. While I haven't such examples in my own practice, the trend is very disturbing. Faith and commerce should not be combined.

Haven't been to church recently? You might have missed something. Church pastors last year had a chance to win a free trip to London and $1,000 cash -- if they mentioned Disney's film "The Chronicles of Narnia" in their sermons. Chrysler, hoping to target affluent African Americans with its new luxury SUV, is currently sponsoring a Patti LaBelle gospel music tour through African-American megachurches nationwide.

Advertising has begun to seep into churches, and the phenomenon shows no signs of slowing down, say academic, religious and marketing experts. Among the wave of early adopters: the Republican Party, which successfully sold its platform to church-goers in the 2000 and 2004 elections; Hollywood, which discovered the economic power of faith when Mel Gibson's church-marketed film "The Passion of the Christ" became a blockbuster; and publishing, with Rick Warren's best-selling The Purpose-Driven Life, heavily marketed by a Christian publishing house.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


It is common knowledge that many of the developing countries have legal systems are overburdened, over regulated, and corrupt. For example, India ranked 70th on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (about halfway).

Wharton Business School offers a special online portal called The C2 Principles. This is a framework promoted by Caux Round Table to reduce global corruption. A good summary is on the website at

We've been told corruption and poor governance are bad for business. The World Bank, IMF and countless economists have singled them out as the biggest problems holding back developing country growth. Yet all these counties with corrupt political systems continue to grow, outpacing US and EU. Why is this contradiction?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Entrepreneurship @ Stanford

Forbes posted a streaming video interview with Mark Thompson on the lessons from world's most enduring entrepreneurs. A Stanford GSB faculty, Mark Thompson is a co-author of Success Built to Last, a sequel to Built to Last and Good to Great books.

Success Built to Last is probably the best management book that I've read. Jerry Porras, another co-author of the book, has been Academic Dean of Stanford for 35 years. Porras and Thompson impressed me greatly with this book. I earnestly hope this book wins Stanford the Nobel Prize for Management!

Monday, September 25, 2006

What is most important in your life?

There was a lot of publicity about Stanford Business School faculty - Jim Collins and Jerry Porras's famous books "Built to Last" and "Good to Great." Both books went on to sell 4 million copies - more than any other management book.

The Stanford based research team led by Jerry Porras has launched a follow up book recently. It is called "Success Built to Last". I have noticed the book in B&N shop last week. I've started reading the book and just couldn't put it down. What an amazing and a thought provoking writing! It has been a long time since a business book had such a profound impact on me.

A few facts about the Jerry Porras. Profession: Academic Dean of Stanford Business School for 35 years. Management Thought Leader, Founder of Organizational Management and Organizational Strategy subjects

Here is a recent article that appeared in the media.

For most, success that's built to last starts with a portfolio of passions
By Kerry Hannon, Special for USA Today

Success is indeed an elusive prize, one that a trio of authors examine in this new self-help business book.

Jerry Porras, co-author (with Jim Collins) of the best-seller Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies; best-selling author Stewart Emery; and executive coach Mark Thompson interviewed more than 200 people.

Most everyone was over 40. Some are well-known: Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, Maya Angelou, Steve Forbes, Quincy Jones, Dalai Lama, Alice Waters.

And some aren't, such as Norma Hotaling, a former prostitute and addict, who founded an organization to help women get off the streets.

The bottom-line conclusion about how successful people operate: "Their passions create meaning in their lives that is nothing short of a lifelong obsession from which they seek no escape."

And there you have it. There is, in the end, no trumping true dedication and passion.

"Success in the long run has less to do with finding the best idea, organizational structure, or business model for an enterprise, than with discovering what matters to us as individuals."

Everyone they interviewed have three essential traits in common.

They are:
•Meaning. What you do must matter deeply to you, so much so that you lose all track of time. It's a "flow experience."
•ThoughtStyle. You have a highly developed sense of accountability, audacity, passion and optimism.
•ActionStyle. You find effective ways to take action.

To quote Apple co-founder Jobs: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." What's most important, says Jobs: "Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."
Most of the men and women interviewed refer to themselves as "Builders," meaning success is something that happens over a long period of time, not just a flash-in-the-pan.
They are trying to make a difference in the world.

Money, ultimately, isn't the goal.

Builders come in all personality types from shrinking violets to swashbucklers, but enduringly successful people are lifted up by the power of their passion.

"The essential difference with Builders is that they've found something to do that matters to them and are therefore so passionately engaged, they rise above the personality baggage that would otherwise hold them down," the authors write.

And you can have more than one passion. In fact, you should. That's what makes a balanced life.
The authors advocate building a portfolio of passions.

"Carve out a little time each week, on the job or after work, to experiment in some way with one of your other passions."

Moreover, you've got to fail on the path to success. A cliché, but true, they write.
In final analysis, one of the best qualities a successful person can bring to the table is a sense of being an explorer.

"The journey is like shooting for the moon and instead hitting Mars — perhaps a better, but different, outcome than envisioned," according to Success Built to Last.

Here's the rub: You should have plans — they get you going — but along the way other things happen in life.

And what you end up being successful at may not be exactly what you pictured when you first started out.